AVON — The town’s water commissioners have fired disgraced water Superintendent John F. Tetreault, who in July pleaded guilty in federal court to falsifying the town’s water quality records.
The decision followed a public hearing on Sept. 18 that outlined the charges against Tetreault made by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the news that his license to operate a water plant had been revoked by the state, according to Town Administrator Michael McCue.
The hearing also detailed an order from the state Department of Environmental Protection that the town improve safety procedures at its municipal water plants and pay a $48,800 fine for past infractions, McCue said. The town already has spent about $38,000 on Tetreault’s legal fees and paid his $87,168 salary into August, McCue said
Neither Tetreault nor his new attorney, John Perten of Boston, attended the hearing, and neither commented afterward. Tetreault has never said why he tampered with the safety records. Environmental officials have said the town water supply’s safety could have been affected, but was not.
“We let him go because of his admitting guilt and because he’s losing his license so he can’t perform his job duties,” Water Commission chairman Peter Marinelli said of Tetreault. “It’s disappointing. You think you have somebody good in there, and you really don’t know. . . We keep finding more things that went wrong.”
One example of problems that came to light was the state DEP’s discovery of an “elastic band arrangement” on the mechanism for feeding treatment chemicals into the water, which the state said effectively bypassed the built-in safety controls.
The vote to fire Tetreault was not unanimous. Marinelli and Charles Comeau Jr. voted in favor; Charles Linfield abstained.
The elected commissioners had come under fire from some in the community — and from the federal agent in charge of the investigation — for not taking quicker action against Tetreault.
The controversy became public in May when the US Department of Justice announced that Tetreault had admitted to tampering with water safety records on four occasions in 2010. However, the water commissioners waited another two months before reacting to the news.
It was only after Tetreault formally pleaded guilty in US District Court on July 10 that the commissioners placed him on paid administrative leave, although they waited more than a week and continued to pay his legal expenses.
A few weeks later, however, the town stopped paying Tetreault’s salary and hired an interim superintendent, Bruce Baldwin, to run the town-owned water system. Marinelli said Baldwin, a retired superintendent who headed the Seekonk Water District for 19 years and is in Avon as a consultant, is not interested in applying for the job.
“The decision on how to move forward with a long-term solution will take place in the next few weeks,” McCue said.
Tetreault had been Avon’s water superintendent since 1997, responsible for two water treatment plants, a filtration plant, and for supplying water to the entire town of 4,500 people and its businesses.
He has pleaded guilty to “making false representations” in federally required water reports and faces six months of probation and a $15,000 fine, according to the US Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case. Sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 4 before Judge Douglas P. Woodlock.